You know the feeling.
Most all of us do. There is some need in your life – a concern that is dominating your thinking, coloring your emotions, intruding on your conversations – and so you do what you are supposed to do with it. You take it to the Lord in prayer. So you kneel, you fold your hands, and you approach the throne of grace with confidence… at least at first.
You pray about your child, or your friend, or your health, or your job, or something else, over and over again, each time asking God to do what only He can do and intervene in this situation, and nothing seems to happen. In fact, the more you pray the more you feel like your words are going out from your mouth, hitting the ceiling, and coming right back down.
In this sense, prayer truly becomes a discipline. It’s not only a discipline because of the force of will it takes to set aside and intentional and focused time for prayer; it’s a discipline to believe that God is indeed listening and acting in the good and right way. So you tell yourself what you know to be true from God’s Word – that He is an attentive Father, listening and responding appropriately to prayer, and yet you don’t see or feel anything happening.
It’s during those times, when we don’t know what’s happening, that we might be tempted to think that nothing actually is. And while we might not yet know exactly how or when God will eventually redeem the situations we are praying about, there are certain things we can absolutely know for certain are happening when we pray, no matter what:
1. We can know Jesus is praying for us.
Here is a staggering thought – the Son of God, crucified and now resurrected, is actually praying for you:
“Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them” (Heb. 7:25).
Jesus is our Great High Priest. Like the high priests of old, He intercedes between God and man. But unlike those high priests, Jesus has been raised to an indestructible life, and therefore always lives to intercede for us. So when we pray, we might feel weak and powerless, but there is One who is all-powerful who is lending His voice to our cause. Jesus, the Son of God, is praying for us.
2. We can know the Holy Spirit is interceding according to God’s will.
When we pray, we might be confused about what the right outcome of a situation is. We, in our limited knowledge, tainted emotion, and short-sighted vision might think we know exactly what a given outcome of a situation ought to be, and yet we might be dead wrong. So we might be confused about what exactly to pray for. We can be certain, though, that the Holy Spirit is not. He knows the will of God, and He is interceding for us not according to our desires, but according to that will:
“In the same way the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:26-27).
3. We can know the Father is only willing to do what is best.
Jesus taught us about our generous Heavenly Father in His discourse on prayer:
“Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Who among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Matt. 7:7-11).
We ask, we seek, and we knock, and what do we find on the other side? We find a Father who not only knows what is best, but is unwilling to give anything else. True enough, we as children might not fully understand or yet embrace what is truly best, but that doesn’t stop our Father’s unbending commitment to our good. So when we pray, we can know for certain that God will respond according to His character – that is, He will respond as a wise and generous Father who only does what is best.
So, Christian, you might be confused, worried, tongue-tied, frustrated, or weary in your prayers today. You might not feel like anything is happening at all. But no matter what else, you can know that when you pray, you have a brother who prays for you, the Spirit who intercedes, and a welcoming, wise Father on the other side.